Category Archives: Politics

Court says non-Jewish man can sue for anti-Semitic remarks

By STACY JONES and BEN HOROWITZ
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS)A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that a man who alleges he

endured anti-Semitic slurs can sue his former supervisors — even though he is not Jewish.

Myron Cowher, a former truck driver for Carson & Roberts Site Construction & Engineering Inc., in Lafayette, N.J., sued the company and three supervisors after he allegedly was the target of anti-Semitic remarks for more than a year.

Cowher, of Dingmans Ferry, Pa., produced DVDs that appear to show supervisors Jay Unangst and Nick Gingerelli making such comments in his presence as “Only a Jew would argue over his hours” and “If you were a German, we would burn you in the oven,” according to a state appeals court ruling handed down April 18.

The appeals court did not consider the merits of Cowher’s case, only whether he has standing to pursue it. The suit, alleging discrimination that created a hostile work environment, had been dismissed by a Superior Court judge who ruled that because Cowher was not a Jew, he could not sue.

However, the appeals court reversed the judge in its 3-0 decision, saying that if Cowher can prove the discrimination “would not have occurred but for the perception that he was Jewish,” his claim is covered by New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

The “proper question” in this case, the court said, is what effect the supervisors’ allegedly derogatory comments would have on “a reasonable Jew,” rather than on a person of Cowher’s actual background, which is German-Irish and Lutheran.

Employment attorneys say the ruling is significant in that it expands the scope of who can bring discrimination suits under the state law by allowing a person who is not actually a member of a protected class to pursue a claim.

The law has typically been used to protect people based on their actual age, race, religion or sexuality. Judges, like the one who initially ruled on the validity of Cowher’s suit, have sometimes dismissed cases when there’s a discrepancy between the alleged remarks and a person’s actual characteristics.

The alleged slurs occurred from January 2007 until May 2008, when Cowher left the company due to an unrelated disability, according to his attorney, Robert Scirocco.

Gingerelli, who still works for the company, and Unangst, who does not, could not be reached for comment. Both men denied that they perceived Cowher to be Jewish, the court said.

Unangst also said that “perhaps” he had commented to Cowher about “Jew money,” that he had called him a “bagel meister” and that he had used the Hebrew folk song “Hava Nagila” as the ring tone for calls on his cell phone from Cowher, the appeals court said.

Cowher testified he had told both men to stop the comments, but they had not, the court said. Cowher’s attorney said Cowher is pleased with the ruling and intends to go forward with the case.

Cowher stayed on the job for more than a year after the alleged comments began because “he needed the work,” Scirocco said. He added that Cowher is now working as a truck driver for another company.

(Stacy Jones and Ben Horowitz write for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.

Nixon felon and evangelical icon Charles Colson dies at 80

Chuck Colson in prison. Photo via Religion News Service archives.

By DAVID MARK and ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Charles W. Colson, the Watergate felon who became an evangelical icon and born-again advocate for prisoners, died Saturday (April 21) after a brief illness. He was 80.

Despite an early reputation as a cutthroat “hatchet man” for President Richard M. Nixon, Colson later built a legacy of repentance, based on his work with

Prison Fellowship, a ministry he designed to bring Bible study and a Christian message to prison inmates and their families.

Colson founded the group in 1976 upon release from federal prison on Watergate-related charges. Prison reform and advocating for inmates became his life’s work, and his lasting legacy.

Colson had undergone surgery on March 31 to remove a pool of clotted blood on his brain. On Wednesday (April 18), Prison Fellowship Ministries CEO Jim Liske told staff and supporters that Colson’s health had taken a “decided turn” and he would soon be “home with the Lord.”

Due to his illness, for the first time in 34 years, he did not spend Easter Sunday preaching to prisoners, his ministry said.

”For more than 35 years, Chuck Colson, a former prisoner himself, has had a tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said evangelist Billy Graham in a statement. “When I get to Heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will also see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them.

He will be greatly missed by many, including me. I count it a privilege to have called him friend.”

In many ways, Colson’s life personified the evangelical ethos of a sinner

in search of redemption after a dramatic personal encounter with Jesus. He also embodied the evangelical movement’s embrace of conservative social issues, although often as a happy warrior.

Today, Prison Fellowship has more than 14,000 volunteers working in

President George W. Bush listens to Robert Sut...

President George W. Bush listens to Robert Sutton, left, a graduate of the Prison Fellowship Ministries InnerChange Freedom Initiative, during a roundtable discussion in the Roosevelt Room Wednesday, June 18, 2003. The initiative is is part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System and the new prisoner reentry and treatment program proposed by the Department of Justice. White House photo by Tina Hager (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

more than 1,300 prisons across the country. More than 150,000 prisoners participate in its Bible studies and seminars every year.

The organization founded by Colson also provides post-release pastoring for thousands of ex-convicts, and supplies Christmas gifts to more than 300,000 kids with a locked-up parent through its Angel Tree program.

Colson also founded Justice Fellowship, to develop what he called Bible-based criminal justice, and advocate for prison reform. In 1993, Colson won the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and donated the money to his ministry.

As recently as February, Colson was still contributing to political debates, writing an open letter with fellow evangelical leader Timothy George that criticized the Obama administration’s health care contraception mandate.

”We do not exaggerate when we say that this is the greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime,” he wrote with George, comparing the mandate to policies of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

In 2009, Colson was a chief architect of the “Manhattan Declaration,” which advocated grass-roots resistance to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. He called the manifesto “one of the most important documents produced by the American church, at least in my lifetime.”

”The Christian’s primary concern is bringing people to Christ,” Colson told Christianity Today magazine in 2001. “But then they’ve got to take their cultural mandate seriously. We are to redeem the fallen structures of society.”

Colson also was a key figure in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a network of religious leaders who found common ground supporting a “culture of life” and reaffirmed their stance in 2006 when they called abortion “murder.”

Religion was far from Colson’s mind during his early adult life, when his main passion was politics. A Boston native, Colson showed early signs of political acumen as a star debater in high school.

After graduating from Brown University, Colson enlisted in the Marines and rose to the rank of captain. Following law school and a stint in the Pentagon, Colson worked on Capitol Hill as a top aide to Sen. Leverett Saltonstall, R-Mass.

After serving on Nixon’s 1968 election team, Colson was appointed by the newly elected president as special counsel to the president. During Nixon’s first term, he was known as Nixon’s feared but respected “hatchet man.”

Colson once bragged of a willingness to “walk over my grandmother if necessary to assure the President’s reelection,” and was roundly known within the Nixon administration as the “evil genius.”

”I was known as the toughest of the Nixon tough guys,” he said in 1995.

Nixon himself described Colson as one of his most loyal aides. “When I complained to Colson I felt confident that something would be done, and I was rarely disappointed,” the former president wrote in his memoirs.

Among other activities, Colson helped set up the “Plumbers” to plug news leaks. The Plumbers engaged in illegal wiretapping of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex, triggering the scandal that took down the Nixon White House.

Colson was also involved in the creation of the Special Investigations Unit, whose members broke into the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist of Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, who had given copies of the Pentagon Papers, a secret account of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, to newspapers.

Nixon aides justified the break-in on the grounds of national security, but

Colson later admitted that the agents were trying to dig up damaging information about Ellsberg before his espionage trial.

As the Watergate scandal mushroomed, Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in 1974, and the felony led him to serve seven months of a one- to three-year sentence at Alabama’s Maxwell Prison as Prisoner 23226.

Colson later said he became a Christian before going to jail, and his time behind bars cemented his faith.

”There was more than a little skepticism in Washington, D.C., when I announced that I had become a Christian,” he said in 1995. “But I wasn’t bitter. I knew my task wasn’t to convince my former political cronies of my sincerity.”

In addition to his work with Prison Fellowship, Colson authored more than 30 books that sold more than 5 million copies, including his seminal 1976 autobiography, “Born Again.”

Colson became an evangelist for better prison conditions and championed what he called “restorative justice,” in which nonviolent criminals should stay out of jail, remain in the community where they committed their crime, and work to support their families and pay restitution to the victim.

Colson also forcefully advocated President Clinton’s impeachment and removal from office in 1998 over what he called perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Newspaper series focuses on clergy’s role on both sides of Amendment One debate

David Scott

By Blogger David Scott
Politics + Religion

The Durham Herald-Sun is running a three-part series on how clergy are involved in the Amendment One debate.

Starting on Sunday (April 22) and continuing Monday (April 23) and Tuesday (April 24), the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper is running a series about how clergy are involved on both sides of the debate about Amendment One, North Carolina’s proposed change to the constitution for marriage between one man and one woman.

I recommend these articles to our readers.

WilmingtonFAVS: 910-520-3958

Southern Baptists to probe Richard Land’s Trayvon Martin remarks

Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, preaches Nov. 11 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a master's degree and met his future wife in the 1970's. Land often acts as a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, articulating the denomination's positions on issues such as abortion, same-sex unions, bioethics and race relations. Photo by Bryan S. Berteau.

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Southern Baptist leaders will investigate whether their top ethicist and public policy director plagiarized racially charged remarks about the Trayvon Martin case that many say set back the denomination’s efforts on racial reconciliation.

Richard Land, who leads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, was accused of lifting remarks for his radio show that accused Democrats and civil rights leaders of exploiting the case of the unarmed Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a volunteer neighborhood watchman.

Even though Land has apologized for both the remarks and not attributing their source, the commission’s executive committee said it was obligated “to ensure no stone is left unturned.” An investigatory committee will “recommend appropriate action” to church leaders.

“They need the Travyon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth: America is a racist and an evil nation. For them it’s always Selma Alabama circa 1965,” Land said on his radio program, speaking of civil rights activists.

Those comments, included in a partial transcript published by Baptist blogger and Baylor University Ph.D. student Aaron Weaver, were previously written by Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner.

While conceding that talk radio has different attribution policies than traditional journalism or academic scholarship, “we nevertheless agree with Dr. Land that he could, and should, do a better job in this area,” the Executive Committee stated.

In a statement, Land said he serves “at the will of the trustees,” and “I look forward to continuing to work with and under the oversight of my trustees.” A commission spokeswoman said Land was not commenting beyond his statement.

The commission trustees, along with other Southern Baptist leaders, noted Land’s role in the passage of the 1995 resolution in which Southern Baptists apologized for their past defense of slavery. They also credited him for “engaging the culture and our political leaders on matters of religious conviction.”

Yet others have criticized Land, including the Rev. Fred Luter, the New Orleans pastor who’s expected to become the SBC’s first African-American president, who called the remarks “unhelpful.”

Ed Stetzer, a Southern Baptist researcher who blogged about Land’s comments without mentioning him by name, said the firestorm threatens to undo progress made by the overwhelmingly white denomination.

“The Southern Baptist Convention still must earn a better reputation for racial inclusion and justice,” Stetzer wrote. “As such, perhaps SBC denominational leaders are not the best persons to speak into racially charged situations, critiquing the actions of African Americans or African American leaders.”

North Carolina ACLU and Equality NC launch video project against Amendment One

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

The North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union and Equality NC Foundation launched the KNOW + LOVE Project today (April 18), online video stories about families with lesbian or gay members.

The groups plan to release new videos in the weeks leading up to the May 8 vote on Amendment One, the state’s proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

One of the site’s first videos includes Christian and Jewish faith leaders talking about Amendment One and its impact on gay and lesbians in the state.

“North Carolina is part of what is supposed to be the New South,” said  Ricky Woods, pastor of First Baptist Church- West, Charlotte. “I think it’s important that we continue to hold the line in terms of what we believe is important, and one of the things we think is important is that no segment of our state should be discriminated against.”

Pastors from across the state told stories about gay or lesbian couples in their congregations who were not allowed input on end of life decisions or child care issues because they were not legally married.

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS

COMMENTARY: Mass hysteria – taking our political pulse

By Blogger David Scott
Politics + Religion

I can only hope it’s temporary, this acute case of social influenza that has gripped our country.

Writer Rob Schofield with North Carolina Policy Watch puts it this way: “Combine a measure of legitimate grievance, a kernel of truth, big helpings of distorted history lessons, and rigid, half-baked ideology along with healthy dashes of paranoia, racism, and religious fundamentalism and then cook it for a few years over the heat and fear generated by globalization and a vexing recession and what do you get?”

The answer is a national mental illness, said Schofield in a Feb. 15 N.C. Policy Watch post.

This “social malaise” shows its bizarre and alarming symptoms every day and has become all too evident in the modern American mindset. Look closely at how we perceive the world, what we’re teaching our kids, what we learn at school and church, our politics, and at how our institutions have bought into this new paradigm of malignant thinking.

In Schofield’s column, he called it “fear of change and the future.”

One of our two major political parties has fallen in love with “the America of yesteryear”–the days when men were men and women were barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. It’s a politics based on a distorted and rose-colored image of the past when minorities stayed quiet and everybody owned a ’55 Chevy. Back to the future.

“Contempt for science and intellectualism.”

Even the educated in this group have chosen arbitrarily to pick the facts that fit their convenience and to disregard the remainder as a hoax or sinister plot against their status or way of life. People ignore global warming so they can continue to drive their Hummers guilt-free. Some fundamentalists have decided evolution is synonymous with godlessness. Citizens thumb their noses at public education so they can teach their kids whatever “facts” they have chosen to accept. People consider intelligence with suspicion and the scholarly as snobs.

This cancerous worldview has now spread to our political, judicial, and religious leadership who are busy working hard to advance policy positions that dismantle effective public programs and structures – programs and structures that enhance everyone’s freedom and quality of life.

If this scenario weren’t so tragic, it would make for great theater. This production won’t win any Oscars and will hopefully have a short run at the box office.

If you’re observing something different, I’d like to hear about it.

How do you read the political pulse of America this election season?

Mitt Romney on the cusp of making major Mormon history

By THOMAS BURR and PEGGY FLETCHER STACK
c. 2012 The Salt Lake Tribune
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) With Rick Santorum’s exit from the White House race, Mitt Romney stands on the cusp of history as the first Mormon to appear at the top of a major party ticket in a general presidential election. Romney, a Brigham Young University-educated, Mormon-family scion and beloved Utah figure, is now the inevitable Republican nominee and will take on President Obama this fall.

The news is sure to bring a surge of excitement unseen in Utah since Romney led the triumphant 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and helped usher the state — and the Mormon Church — onto the world stage.

“Romney has family here, he’s lived here, he’s worked here, he went to school here,” says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who has campaigned this year with the former Massachusetts governor. “It feels like he’s one of us.”

He is the seventh Latter-day Saint to attempt a presidential bid — six others, including former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman this year, and church founder Joseph Smith in 1844, fell short.

Many Latter-day Saints feel connected to Romney, says Darius Gray, former head of the Genesis Group, a support organization for black Mormons, and others will believe that “Mormonism has arrived.”

For so long, Latter-day Saints have had a “sense of being the underdog, due to our history and persecution we’ve experienced in our 182-year history,” Gray said. “For some, (Romney’s nomination) will be a kind of vindication. But with it will come great scrutiny about who we are as a people.”

Gray’s advice to Mormons: Don’t overreact to questions about the faith’s past and its present.

“We should not be thin-skinned,” he said. “It will behoove all of us at all levels to be prepared to answer well and fully questions that are bound to arise.”

Regardless of the fallout, Gray looks forward to “an interesting confrontation between visions of the future — that of Brother Romney and that of President Obama.”

Romney’s quest for the Oval Office already has seen rumblings of anti-Mormon sentiment carry over to the ballot box. He lost much of the evangelical-dominated South. Some prominent pastors have dismissed Mormonism as a cult. Others have questioned the faith’s exclusion of full membership for African-Americans until 1978.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is likely to see more scrutiny than it did during the Olympics — now through a political lens. Ben Park, a Mormon doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in England, said Mormons will face a host of new perspectives.

“Prior to this,” Park wrote in an email, “it’s only been evangelicals and the religious right. … This will be the first time they confront thoughtful secular criticisms — the kind that can’t be shrugged off as anti-Mormon bigotry and will actually cause reflection.”

That may prompt a bit of a pause with some of the Mormon faithful, who find themselves hopeful for a candidate but also wary of the spotlight.

“There is a curious mixture of excitement and apprehension among Mormons, whatever their political persuasion,” said Mormon writer and blogger Jana Riess in Cincinnati. “We are hyperaware of our minority status in America and concerned that increased public scrutiny of our faith will prove painful.”

However faith surfaces in the fall campaign — Obama’s team has said Romney’s Mormonism will be off-limits despite GOP allegations that it won’t be — the candidate’s newfound stature pushes the LDS faith into a new political stratosphere.

Romney’s nomination is “the outcome of the many changes to Mormonism since World War II,” says Jan Shipps, a respected historian of American religions. “It is a key episode in the life of the Utah-based faith.”

That’s true even for non-Romney supporters.

State Sen. Ben McAdams, a Salt Lake City Democrat and devout Mormon, conceded that having a Mormon presidential nominee is an exciting prospect that will create national exposure for the church.

“I’ve long maintained that as America gets to know my faith, they’ll find a lot of virtue and value in who we are, and we have a lot in common with the American people, and we have a lot to bring to the table,” McAdams said. “As Americans will learn during the course of this campaign, Mormons are mainstream America.”

McAdams says he wants a Mormon as president — though he doesn’t want Romney to be that Mormon.

Nationally, nine in 10 Mormons (86 percent) in the GOP-dominated faith give Romney positive marks, according to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life earlier this year. Even 62 percent of Mormon Democrats have a favorable view of their fellow believer.

Shipps, who is writing about post-World War II Mormonism, is now waiting to see how the presidential showdown ends.

“I can’t finish my book,” she said, “until this plays out.”

(Thomas Burr and Peggy Fletcher Stack write for The Salt Lake Tribune. Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.)

COMMENTARY: For the grace of God

By Blogger David Scott
Politics + Religion

Early one morning, while I was purchasing my daily newspaper at a local convenience store, I noticed the clerk had a concerned and almost frightened look on her face.

Usually, I simply plunk down my money and leave. That morning, I decided to engage this woman in conversation, sensing she needed to talk.

She told me she had been working at this store for 13 years and was still working for minimum wage. Her employer had recently cut back her work time to two days a week. She now made a total of $58 per week. She looked to be in her early forties and has two children. She does not have another source of income nor prospects for another job.

She went on to say she was going to resign her job, finally realizing she would never get the opportunity for promotion or a higher income. It was clear from her expression she was personally and spiritually demoralized. I tried to be upbeat with her, but I knew my faint encouragement was too late. I was seeing for myself a real, live, breathing, sad human being who was about to fall “between the cracks.”

Reluctantly and with a sense of helplessness, I said goodbye to this woman and left. I am still haunted by her expression, knowing there are millions of other Americans in her same terrible situation.

Many, and probably most, of these people are victims of circumstance. They were born poor and were not given the opportunity to excel. They didn’t have positive and supportive role models who encouraged them. Their families had no money to send them to college.

As I’m accustomed to doing when reaching home with my paper, I settled into my favorite chair to read the headlines and digest the day’s news. It was then it struck me. In vivid and in painfully realistic color, I was observing why our country is in trouble.

The stark contrast between the warring ideologies in Washington suddenly became clear to me. Before, I  had simply mused that our society was broken. Now it was clear why.

The headlines told the story. One political party was not going to extend unemployment insurance for those without jobs unless the other party agreed to extend the federal tax cuts to the wealthy, the top 2 percent of our population. In a country where the top 1 percent owns 30 percent of the wealth, we were quibbling over preventing people from going without food, lodging and paying for medical care.

As we as a country spend billions of dollars each month fighting foreign wars, we are allowing our own citizens to endure hardships through no fault of their own. We are endlessly debating as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. No one is born aspiring for poverty and misfortune. Being poor is not a sin; it is a shame.

As a country, we pride ourselves as being “exceptional.” We claim that fate has favored us with a unique gift. We imagine ourselves as God’s Chosen People and purveyors of freedom and generosity.

We think so highly of ourselves as the only world superpower, but we are neglecting the very people who have made us great—–our middle class, especially those who have “fallen through the cracks.”

We have forgotten the adage, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Q conference seeks to present different face of evangelical activism

Q founder Gabe Lyons, who will present the sixth annual Q conference in Washington. RNS photo courtesy of Waterbrook Multnoham Publishing Group

By YONAT SHIMRON
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Gabe Lyons thinks Christian culture warriors are on the wrong path.

His sixth annual Q Conference, which opens Tuesday (April 10) in Washington, D.C., is an attempt to do things differently. With 700 participants gathered in a stately downtown auditorium, Lyons will play host to a distinct kind of Christian conference, one that seeks a respectful, constructive conversation on a host of issues confronting the nation.

Q, which stands for “question,” will allow 30 different culture leaders — from New York Times columnist David Brooks to Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter — to present their ideas for the common good during a two-and-a-half day confab.

“We feel we have a role to play in renewing the culture and holding back the effects of sin,” said Lyons, founder of Q, a nonprofit organization based in New York City. “We’re not to do it in an antagonistic way. We hope to do it in a hopeful way that gives witness to the rest of the world in how things ought to be.”

Part Clinton Global Initiative, part TED Talk, the conference is designed to highlight the best ideas rather than condemning the nation’s ills. Presenters are allocated three, nine, or 18 minutes to talk. Participants sit at round tables instead of rows, and time is built in for participants to reflect and talk about what they’ve heard.

That kind of format allows Q to include both Richard Land from the religious right and Jim Wallis from the religious left; both will share the stage Tuesday to discuss areas of potential agreement.

Lyons, a Liberty University graduate, said he realized nine years ago how little most Americans respected Christianity. That realization prompted him to acknowledge that the nation’s religious pluralism was here to stay, and that if Christians wanted their views to be given a thoughtful hearing, they had better quit resisting and start creating a culture that allows God’s love to break though.

His 2010 book, “The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America,” was a kind of manifesto calling Christians to quit cursing the darkness and start lighting a candle.

Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention‘s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he appreciates Lyons’ point, but thought it was overly simplistic. “Jesus called us to do both; He called us to be salt and light,” Land said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Land said his own denomination, which is often cast as a judgmental culture agitator, is also among the nation’s largest providers of emergency disaster relief. In addition, its members give a higher proportion of their incomes to charity.

But Q participants are not about to compromise their evangelical convictions. On Thursday, participants will fan out across Washington to press Congress, the White House and the State Department on issues they deem important.

The difference, Lyons said, is the tone.

“It’s more civil, less fear-based,” he said. “There’s more appreciation for the intellect and a commitment to let the best ideas win out.”

(The Q Conference will provide a free video stream of its opening day sessions from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at http://www.qideas.org/live/)

VIEWPOINTS: Why do you think the church is losing young adults?

By AMANDA GREENE
WilmingtonFAVS.com

This week’s Viewpoints question had many of our writers really buzzing.

Why do you think the church is losing young adults?

A 2007 Lifeway Research poll found that about 70 percent of youth leave the church of their childhood after high school. About 35 percent of church dropouts said they resumed church attendance by age 30.

Some political analysts are pointing to a ‘God gap; with young people feeling alienated by politicians who incorporate their belief systems into ideas about policy.

Here is what WilmingtonFAVS’ writers had to say.

Victoria Rouch

Victoria Rouch

I blame arrogance and the incursion of religion into politics for driving young people away from churches. Religion should be – first and foremost – about strengthening their fellowship’s link with the Divine. In the past, churches were seen as places where those in need of guidance could gather for support in their spiritual walk. There they were encouraged and uplifted. The churches’ role in the community facilitated this; by encouraging the fellowship’s reaching out to the community, it encouraged charity and love. By being helped and uplifted during spiritual crisis, members learned the value of being part of a supportive community of like-minded believers.

But today, Christian churches seem to have turned away from providing spiritual support to becoming moral scolds. They’ve become huge, both in scope and in arrogance. Megachurches transmit three services a Sunday on theater screens. Preachers like Pat Robertson who have reached celebrity preacher status use their popularity to raise money from people often hard-pressed to send in the donations they’re asked to give. The popularity of these preachers has led too many of them to get into politics and seek to influence political races.

Young people at uncertain places in their lives may no longer see churches as a refuge or a place they can go for supportive environment of spiritual growth. Part of Jesus’ appeal to his followers – and to so many young people – was that he was a bit of a rebel. By loving the sick and needy and rebuking the Pharisees, he bucked the system of his day. Today, so many churches don’t buck the system but are part of it. That’s bound to make anyone cynical, especially young people.

David Scott

David Scott

I have a daughter, age 23, who like me, was raised as a liberal Christian. It has been very revealing to watch her religious evolution. As she grew older, we watched her belief system mature from one base on naiveté into critical thinking on her own. She began to observe the hypocrisy in the organized church and the requirement to accept blind faith instead of scientific and verifiable facts on which to base life’s decisions. She, like me, became more and more appalled at American Christianity’s silence when it came to social issues and our country’s addiction to perpetual war. And, not to become partisan, the church’s alignment with the hate-filled theology of neo-conservatism sealed the deal for my daughter and me. I believe in Christ’s philosophy, but I’m finding modern-day Christianity difficult to swallow.

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

As usual, a Buddhist perspective on this question will be something different. Dharmanet.org indicates that about 1400 locales in the US have some sort of activity that self-identifies as Buddhist. Very few of these, however, are institutions, churches, or temples that are places of worship. Many are retreat centers or groups meeting in homes. Considering the variety of teaching schools, lineages, and practices, it is difficult to reach any reasonable conclusions about growth or loss of practitioners. The general sense, however, is that Buddhism is growing rapidly.

Adherents.com—a growing collection of over 3,870 adherent statistics and religious geography citations—does provide some information about the growth of Buddhism. Of the top five largest religious groups in the US (self-identified through the American Religious Identity Survey), Buddhism has grown the most in the indicated time period.

On a local note, I can report a general increase in interest in Buddhism and a lowering of the average age of those engaged in exploring the Buddhist path to awakening. A local social media site for all things Buddhist, Wilmington Dharma, reports 40.2 percent of all those reached by the site are in the 18-34 year old demographic. Surprisingly, about 60 percent of that age group are males. The number of local practice groups has nearly tripled in the last five years.

Is this local growth all “Buddhist” in the sense of traditional religion? No. Buddhism is reinventing itself in the west, and Wilmington is no different in that regard. Much of the local growth is from people interested in mindfulness and meditation as tools for living. Traditional Buddhist practices rely heavily on such techniques, but the techniques are not the be-all, end-all to awakening.

Cynthia Barnett

Cynthia Barnett

I think young people, like many other thinkers today, are searching for something authentic. This spiritual search may take them away from creeds, rituals, dogma and even established denominations. They want a fresh look at what it means to follow Good, or God, in this world, and they want to discover it for themselves.

I like to think of church as a living idea, not limited to a building, service or doctrine. I’ve been taught that it’s the structure of Truth and Love; that it rouses us from material beliefs to spiritual ideas and gives us proof that it’s useful in our individual lives, our communities and our world. Church heals, and more. It gives purpose, meaning and unconditional love for us to express. So it’s up to us. That’s a challenge!

Clay Ritter

Pastor Clay Ritter

Why is the church losing young adults? There are a multitude of reasons, but one I would submit is this: Resistance to change on the part of church leaders.

The message should not change (truth is truth), but how we deliver the message can and must change. Young people are searching for truth. They want to make a difference in their world. Case in point: Candidate Barack Obama’s success in uniting the college vote – these kids wanted to make a difference!. But they see the churches of their parents as stale and not relevant.

As leaders, we must be willing to assess what is not working, and be willing to change it so we can reach the next generation. These kids WILL run the world after we are dead and gone, so we had better make sure that they have a foundation of truth, character and courage to carry into their high calling.

I read recently that Howard Hendricks was called in to assess a church that was declining in attendance, and this was his recommendation: “Put a fence around the church and charge admission to people that want to see how church was done in the 1950’s.”

All we need to do is look at Western Europe, where great churches that were the guiding moral compass in society are now being converted to restaurants and clubs.

Bottom line: truth will always be truth, and we should never seek to water down our core beliefs, which will only negate the power of our message. Style, delivery, communication mediums, music, these are things that are not core doctrinal values (if they are, then you have another problem altogether), and must be made relative to the culture we seek to reach.

Josh Stephens

Josh Stephens

The church is losing young adults because society is selling them a better story (a better life) than the church. Society knows what young people want. And the church, or churches, have refused to adapt. I’m not saying the church needs to invest in some sexy back-up dancers in worship or tell people Jesus looked just like Channing Tatum. But the church does need to sell young adults a better story. For too long the church has condemned young people for succumbing to the ways of the world. Instead, they should be loving young adults, despite their faults.

The church has condemned while society has accepted.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Shouldn’t the church be accepting the outcast, tattooed, gay, pierced, hurt and broken? The answer is, simply, yes. But this isn’t always the case. Young adults have grown up in a society where religious organizations have turned their backs to these people. And, in turn, young adults have turned their backs on the church.

If I didn’t not grow up in a family and church who, at their core, love God and people (no matter where they come from) I would probably be joining those young people who have turned their back on the church.

We can place the blame on the loss of young adults in the church on the church as a whole, but you ARE the church. If you want to see young adults coming to know Christ and get involved in the church, you have to love these young adults where they are.

Instead of condemning these young adults for what they’ve done, let’s open up our arms. Then we can share with the the incredible story that Christ offers them.

Laura Frank

Laura Frank

I have over 12 years experience working as a youth and young adult minister. I have seen this problem up close several times. First, this is not another conservative versus liberal argument. I once worked for a liberal-leaning pastor and church, and due to their resistance to change, the youth program died, and the young adults stopped attending. A vibrant theatre arts program that brought youth and adults from the church and from other churches together in Christian fellowship was also squashed. The theatre program -though highly successful and a great service project -proved to be too far out of the box of normal church ministry. It became obvious the people giving the most money to the church (the older population) had the loudest and most pervasive voice in the church going forward.
Youth need to have the freedom given to them in Christ to express their love and devotion to God in their own unique ways -they need to be accepted where they are at that moment. That can be through sports or technology and even from my experience -the arts.

If their individual ways of expressing their faith is not accepted in their church, they will leave and possibly never return to the faith. Their voices deserve to be heard. The church belongs to them just as much, even though they probably don’t give as much money.

Han Hills

Han Hills

In a word, information. The modern technological era has made available a huge variety of material online that exposes and demands the reassessment of differing viewpoints. In this environment, churches no longer have control over the information to which our youth are exposed. Through social networking, it is inevitable that the Internet generation reads, hears and sees alternative viewpoints which vastly contradict any singular dogma or rationale espoused at the pulpit. Since the earliest times, religious institutions have fought against the dissemination of information, fighting the translation and publication of texts, especially those that challenge often narrow and archaic viewpoints. Today, this is a battle they can no longer fight nor win. Young people can plainly see that those outside their own traditional faith are not an immoral enemy, but rather a collection of groups vastly similar to themselves. The argument could be made that the young still need social community, but again, they are increasingly finding this online. Blogs are the new pulpits, and social networking the new community for our next generation.

Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

In 1969, my family relocated from Beaune to Chartres, France. I was 16. Both my parents found new jobs; my siblings and I went to new schools. Three months later, I had made new friends, got good grades and was my class mascot.

But deep inside, I was lonely. Something was missing in my life.

My parents didn’t give us a religious upbringing. One day after school, I took a chance and walked alone into the massive cathedral. I walked around the pews, then to the confessional. I knew I had to address the Catholic priest as “Father,” but I couldn’t make myself do it. I sat down in the tight wooden structure. It felt unfamiliar, almost scary.

I couldn’t see the priest’s face in the dark.

“Sir,” I said in a low voice, “I feel something’s missing in me. I don’t believe in God, but I really want to.”

In response, the priest told me to “make friends at school, get good grades and be happy.”

I left even more distraught than when I’d walked in.

God’s priest had let me down.

Looking back at that experience, I think the priest had good intentions, but also lacked appreciation for an adolescent’s drama. I was a “well-adjusted” teen. I did not need advice on how to “make new friends or good grades.”

But I did need guidance into spirituality to help me deal with a world of chaos and war. I needed to know: “How do I feel God’s presence in my life?”

In 2012 America, our society is even more frightening. Christians and “God’s representatives” must learn to address the reality and the poignancy of a young adult’s spiritual quest.

Andy Lee

Andy Lee

I am a mother of three. My kids are ages 20, 19, and 14. We were a military family who moved often, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch my kids respond to the different styles of worship and teaching in the many churches we’ve attended.

It’s quite simple. My kids need and desire a church where they can be themselves. Sing to music their generation listens to. Listen to preachers who make the message relevant to today. They need this in a church because our faith isn’t just about Sunday. Faith is 24/7. That’s why Sunday needs to resemble this generation’s “every day.”

The new church movement with rock bands and preachers in jeans and sneakers is really not very different from what Jesus did. The Pharisees were not pleased with his new “worship style” either. He healed people on the Sabbath and ate with sinners. Radical. We sing in the dark to the thump of a bass drum, a far cry from the churches of 50 years ago. But it is a place my kids want to be. It’s a church where they are growing their faith. Not mine.

Jesus told those questioning his methods that new wine cannot be poured into old wineskins. In the same way, the church must grow and evolve with each generation. We cannot force our style on them. The heart of the message does not change, but the format must.

My middle son has recently posted a video on Facebook that gives an answer to our Viewpoints question. Why don’t we ask a young person?